Friday, September 07, 2007

Culture, conservatives and the defining of art

Conservatives are funny people. Challenged to define art, 'Zen Tiger' at the NZ Conservative blog avoids the question for most of a very long page before banging on instead about marriage, homosexuality, and the threat the latter poses to the former.

Conservatives are funny people.

In reiterating the challenge, Paul L spots something Zen hasn't, "I was merely hoping that somebody might say something nice ... about something they enjoyed. That is the problem with conservatism; it is always opposed to everything."

NB: If the question really was a genuine one, and it's more important than the conservatives in the debate seem to realise, then I offer what I think is a pretty good stab at defining art in this post: Art: There's More to it Than Just Meets the Eye - Not PC.

UPDATE 1: It occurs to me that the argument neatly demonstrates what Objectivism calls the instrinsicist-subjectivist divide. What's art? Says, the conservative, "Whatever God says it is." Says the subjectivist, "Whatever we say it is." Exploding the dichotomy, the Objectivist points out that like everything else in existence art has a nature, and the nature of art is neither defined for us by God or by our feelings (nor by the feelings of a committee), but instead by the the nature of art, by the nature of human consciousness, and by the relationship between the two.

UPDATE 2: Great to see the debate engaged here in the comments section. Since I don't wish to interrupt the debate, rather than enter the fray myself may I again invite commenters simply to visit the links I've already offered, in which I point to what I think is the best definition of art so far, explain why definition is so important, and outline what gives art the power to move us so profoundly.

"Art is the technology of the soul." "Art is a shortcut to philosophy." "Art is the concretisation of metaphysics." "Truth is beauty, beauty is truth..." Clearly art is more than just decoration; something that has the power to effect us so profoundly can't be causeless (well, most of us -- Alan Gibbs excluded it seems).

It must be possible to provide an explanation for something that does this. What in the nature of art that give it this power? How does it effect us? That's what these links try to explain:

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Britain's die-while-you-wait health system

Contract cancer in Eastern Europe or the UK, and your chances of survival are less than half. Contract cancer in the US -- the most evil, greedy, selfish nation on the planet -- and your chances vault up to nearly two-thirds. The reason Brits are more likely to die?
Cancer experts blamed late diagnosis and long waiting lists.
Looks like the UK has the same die-while you wait health system we do. The new study "demonstrates what opponents of socialized medicine have been saying for years," says Don Watkins: "socialized medicine kills." Consider that in the US alone, 1.4 million people will be diagnosed this year, and you realise the numbers involved. As Watkins makes plain, people are dying for the sake of the failed ideology that is destroying Venezuela:
Researchers attribute Britain's dismal numbers primarily to late diagnoses and lengthy waiting lists for treatment. But long lines and waiting lists are necessarily endemic under socialized medicine. Just as a "free" grocery store would not be able to keep its shelves stocked, a "free" health care system necessarily lacks sufficient resources to adequately treat all those seeking care. The result is thousands of unnecessary deaths—and millions of grief-stricken families.
See: UK Survival Rate Lowest in Europe - Telegraph,
and: Socialized Medicine Kills - Principles in Practice blog.

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Islam v Christianity: Let the Daily Show decide

Christianity or Islaaaaaam! Which one is right? Whose god is greater? How do you decide?

The Daily Show hosts The Great Debate on this era defining question. As Ed says, "This three-minute clip pretty much summarizes the nature of religious debate." It's Jewlarious!

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Socialism still stinks in Venezuela

Readers of the last Free Radical will remember Jeff Perren's cover story depicting the socialism of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, and its consequential and inexorable slide into dictatorship, penury and a place where people boil up stones for soup -- all this on the back of an unprecedented oil boom.

Two recent articles depict the further slide, first the economic slide and the prospect of "the macroeconomic house of cards" hitting the wall: Chavez Economy Unravels as Venezuela Currency Weakens - Bloomberg.

The second offers another example of the destruction of free speech: a new law requiring permission from the government for your baby's name, and the banning of names "that invite ridicule, are extravagant or hard to pronounce." See: What's in a name? If lawmakers have their way, it won't be anything unusual - AP.

The Tomahawk Kid comments:
Soon no-one in Venezuela will be allowed to say anything president Chavez disapproves of, even if they could find the means, as he has nationalised (taken by force from its rightful owners) energy, telecommunications, radio and TV stations, who are forced to interrupt their programmes to broadcasts speeches by Chavez.
There is nothing new in his actions though - it has all been done before! First they nationalise industry, then they censor all opposition, and then slowly the people starve - and by that time, there is no-one left to speak out against the horrors. For those with eyes, and minds, Venezuela is just the latest tragic example.
Socialism stinks. It stinks everywhere it's tried. If you haven't seen socialism destroy a country before, then watch Venezuela and learn -- and make sure it doesn't happen here.

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"There is no means of avoiding a final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion"

Would-be pundits such as Brian Gaynor et al who offer their opinions on the collapses and troubles in finance houses might want to add to their researches the subjects "creative destruction" and "malinvestment" (a misallocation of resources often following a period of artificially excessive credit)-- two concepts without an understanding of which no punditry could be considered informed -- and the story of the 1970s bailout of Britain's "secondary banks" should be another topic worth reading [hat tip Elijah].

Writing in 1949, Ludwig von Mises might have been talking to today's pundits:
There is no means of avoiding a final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as the final and total catastrophe of the currency involved.
If only the pundits were listening. There are no shortcuts to the inevitable. Tell failing finance houses "Screw up and we will bail you out," and what do you think that will do to the number of screw ups, and to the amount of extra risk the screw-ups take with your money?

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Electoral Finance Bill

Submissions on the Electoral Finance Bill close at 5pm today. This is the Bill described in parliament yesterday as produced by "a fascist tyranny, and anti-democratic." The commenter was too kind.

In the Libertarianz submission on the Bill, Bernard Darnton -- whose suit against the Clark Government for misappropriating public funds to pay for their electoral advertising led to Clark and co. passing so called "validating" legislation to legalise the theft, and set in train the moves towards this Bill -- makes clear he "opposes this Bill in the strongest possible terms."
It is an unprecedented assault on free speech and violates the trust between citizens and the government that undergirds a peaceful and prosperous country.

Vendors in third-world markets often start by making an outrageous offer and then haggling their way down to the price they actually want – a price that would have seemed outrageous if it had been offered initially. Those selling third-world political ideas should not be allowed to get away with the same trick.

This Bill is beyond repair. It cannot be fixed. We urge committee members not to make the mistake of meeting its authors half-way and declaring a successful compromise. This Bill cannot be watered down; it must be drowned...

The stated intentions of this Bill include the maintenance of public confidence in the administration
of elections and the promotion of public participation by the public in parliamentary democracy. In
1946 George Orwell wrote, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder
respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

We propose that, in the interests of honesty, the wording be changed to
3 (a) deflect attention from the public's lack of confidence in the administration of elections in the wake of the misappropriation of public funds to pay for electoral advertising and the subsequent validation of such misappropriation.
(b) deter public participation in parliamentary democracy and limit political expression to approved parties.
The hard-hitting Libertarianz submission can be found online here: Submission on the Electoral Finance Bill - Libertarianz.

UPDATE: David Farrar has info on how to make an online submission. Do it NOW!

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Broken Men - Rudyard Kipling

FOR things we never mention,
For Art misunderstood—
For excellent intention
That did not turn to good;
From ancient tales’ renewing,
From clouds we would not clear—
Beyond the Law’s pursuing
We fled, and settled here...

God bless the thoughtful islands
Where never warrants come;
God bless the just Republics
That give a man a home,
That ask no foolish questions,
But set him on his feet;
And save his wife and daughters
From the workhouse and the street!

Excerpts from Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'Broken Men.'

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Farewell Pavarotti

With news that tenor Luciano Pavarotti is in his final hours at his home in Modena, time to remember just how tremendous the maestro was.

Here at YouTube is Pav in Paris in (or close to) his prime, singing Nessun Dorma under conductor James Levine with a voice of pure gold.

Farewell Luciano.

UPDATE 1: Malvina Major and Lindsay Perigo discuss Pavarotti's life, art and voice with John Campbell on TV3's CampbellLive. See Campbell Live Remembers Pavarotti - TV3.

UPDATE 2: Perigo's radio tribute to Luciano this morning is here.

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Muslim enlightenment?

IN SYDNEY ON HER recent visit, Ayaan Hirsi Ali didn't cause the whole city to shut down, but she did appear in a roundtable discussion on the nature and future of Islam that would have shut down Tehran if they'd heard it.

She argues in the latest Free Radical that the Muslim world can achieve an enlightenment of ideas in far less time that it took the West: she explains in this video of the Sydney roundtable discussion why and how that's both possible, and urgently necessary:
Enlightening Islam - Ayaan Hirsi Ali, CIS [video].

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Going "nucular" In Sydney

It's highly amusing seeing what Lindsay Perigo calls Sydney's harem of hacks without a whole brain among them coming out in conniptions at Dubya and Howard capturing the APEC conference agenda with the eminently sensible point that if you're serious about the environment and about climate change, then the only way to go is what Bush calls "nucular."

They're not the first to make the point -- even gormless Gaian James Lovelock recognises that "we have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger" and "Nuclear power is the only green solution" -- but it's delicious to see all the braindead worthies in and about Sydney clutching their egos about them as the unspeakable is so loudly and (almost) clearly spoken when instead they were there to report the usual banalities.

UPDATE: Tim Blair has a giggle at the harem of hacks and their anti-Bush obsession.

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Xenophobic simpletons befoul this country

Xenophobia, n. hatred or fear of foreigners. xenophobe, n. xenophobic, adj. [Greek xenos strange, stranger]
Two events in recent days demonstrate for me one reason this country is fast becoming a pathetically provincial authoritarian backwater.

The first is the knee-jerk xenophobia that has forced Dubai Aerospace to withdraw their $2.6 billion offer to purchase a controlling share in Auckland airport -- a story that appeared in the Herald opposite another story quite coincidentally pointing out that in order for New Zealand to grow it needs investment, and one that won't be lost on other investors who may have been considering venturing into this bigoted backwater.

You reactionary phobic fools who opposed those nasty foreigners doing business with us on the offchance we might catch diseases from them like the pursuit of wealth and the enjoyment of hard work will no doubt be happy with that outcome.

The second event that raised my bile is the primeval, almost antediluvian, foreigner-hatred exhibited by most of you in airily dismissing any notion or any argument that a human being might deserve a home here in New Zealand (in fact without even addressing the arguments), and instead insisting simply that he be sent back to the mullahs in Iran to be killed. The only words you have for someone like Ali Panah who wants to make a life and home here are "Fuck Off." Those of you expressing that view on this thread here disgust me.

You xenophobic bigots befoul the world and this country by being in it. You do not speak for me.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Free Radical 77: THE INFIDELS EDITION

TWO OF THE BRAVEST AND most controversial figures of our times are former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Danish newspaper editor Flemming Rose. As editor of The Free Radical, I'm enormously proud to publish interviews with both of these inspirational heroes.

Hirsi Ali (pictured left on that striking cover) outlines why she damns Islam, and why nonetheless the Muslim world can achieve an enlightenment of ideas in far less time that it took the West -- and Flemming Rose tells Lindsay Perigo about the lessons learned from his commissioning the series of Danish cartoons that sent Islamists berserk, and moral relativists running for cover.

These two interviews kick off an issue that infidels everywhere need to have on their coffee table, in their briefcase, and in their gift bags to business and personal friends. Just look what's on offer inside the 'Infidels' issue:

  • AS IT BECOMES increasingly clear that global warming skeptics are made infidels not so much for their scepticism of the threadbare warmist science but more for their refusal to accept the warmist political agenda, The Free Radical asks: What would a freedom-lover do about global warming? How could a freedom-lover use contemporary hysteria to drive the debate upwards to freedom, instead of down towards the ant heap of totalitarianism?
  • WHAT WOULD AYN Rand's "Party X" do in opposition to today's environmental hysteria? In seven punches to the green jaw, we show that capturing the debate for freedom need not be difficult if you know a little judo. As Bernard Darnton explains, socialism and central planning are unworkable at seventeen degrees. What makes anyone think things will be different at nineteen degrees?
  • WHAT'S THE CAUSE of the present worldwide turmoil in money markets – and what’s the likely outcome? George Reisman has the answers -- and a solution.
  • IF AN OPERA singer without a voice for it can go round the world in less than eighty days, then why can't freedom lovers use the same technique for the freedom message? Darnton and Cresswell spot an opportunity.
  • AFTER MODERNISM CAME post-modernism. What now for post-postmodern art? Stephen Hicks explains how and why art went to the dark side, and why it now has the chance to head towards the light.
  • SOLUTIONS TO THE serious problems with housing affordability are offered by National's John Key and Nick Smith, and summarily dismissed by Peter Cresswell.
ALL THIS AND MUCH, MUCH MORE in this latest issue, including a fan's review of the Harry Potter series and a non-fan's review of Ian Wishart's feverish best-seller; a beer enthusiast's review of American beer and a romance enthusiast's opinion on the risks of passion in California; the story of the child's mathematical mind and how James Bond and John Galt shave ... all this and more in Free Radical 77.

SUBSCRIBE NOW! Or buy your digital copy here shortly, or your hard copy in any one of these stores here from Monday.

Enjoy!
Peter Cresswell
EDITOR, THE FREE RADICAL
**Politics, Economics & Life as if Freedom Mattered**

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Howard chooses sport over friend Bush

I'm impressed by Australian Prime Minister John Howard's decision to avoid meeting US President George Bush when he flew into Sydney last night and instead attend the NRL's Rugby League Awards Dinner. "You gotta get your priorities right, said Howard, "no disrespect to my very good friend - but it's rugby league, after all."

I agree with his decision, not because I'm a fan of rugby league, and nor because I think Bush deserves to be be snubbed, but because choosing sport over politics is a pointer to a more rational world when politicians are put in their place behind those who actually get on with running the world.

In a more rational world, we'd read newspapers and watch TV news not to see who's killing whom or to read what political insanity had been inflicted on us today, but instead to see which team won, and how your shares are doing. In a more reasonable and self-aware world, you'd read blogs like this one not for the evisceration and lampooning of politics and politicians, but for the architecture and the jokes.

In the meantime, blogs like this one will continue to work towards making that more rational era possible, and applauding politicians like John Howard who sometimes show they understand their place in the universe.

Onya John.

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A challenge for National Party supporters: What are the top ten ways in which your party promotes freedom and rolls back the state?

As authoritarian as the present government and their coalition colleagues are, is there any assurance that the main alternative on offer would be any better? The truism is that governments aren't elected -- it's their opponents who are thrown out.

So it's a fair question to ask: if and when this lot do get thrown out, how much better will the other lot be?

If talk was action, we'd seem to be a whole lot better off. At last month's National Party conference, for example, John Key told his troops, "we believe in the principles of the National Party. We believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility. We believe the government should underpin our society but not dominate it." Sounds good, doesn't it. And blogger and National Party cheerleader Insolent Prick insisted here at Not PC the other day that "National believes in reducing the size of the state, and encouraging private enterprise."

Now, I'm naturally pleased to hear noises like these, and to hear at least one National supporter with his heart on his suit's sleeve affirming what are supposed to be his party's principles.

I'm pleased, but (given the appallingly statist performance last time the Nats were near the levers of power) I really wonder if a word of it is really true?

At the time he made that statement, I invited Insolent Prick and and any other National Party supporters reading that thread if they could list for me the top ten most substantive ways in which National proposes to reduce the size of the state, and encourage private enterprise.

I got no response.

Assuming he overlooked the challenge, I figured I'd issue it more openly, right here on the front page. Specifically,
what are the top ten most substantive ways in which National proposes to . In what ten ways does the party whose principles promote greater freedom and increased personal responsibility actually plan to roll back the state, and to actually promote greater freedom and reduced coercion?
Feel free to post and let me know, since I'm sure there are readers here as curious as I am to hear what those top ten policy planks are -- or even if there are ten.

And here's a second related challenge:
just how many of the Clark Government's scurrilous attacks on freedom have they clearly and openly pledged to overturn?
I suspect the answers to both challenges will be published on a very small postcard, but please feel free to correct me. I promise to publish all substantive and provably correct answers here on the front page as they appear.

[NB: If any other party supporters wish to promote their own party's policies as judged by the same criteria, then please do feel free. I assume we can take it as read that Libertarianz is one party at least that fits the bill.]

UPDATE: David Farrar offers his contribution to the challenge (about which I'll make no comment at this stage). First, the Nats' top ten planks to reduce the size of the state, and encourage private enterprise:
  1. Lower Taxes
  2. Allow state house tenants to buy their state house
  3. Partial privatisations of some SOEs
  4. Enable private/public partnerships for new roads
  5. Greater subsidies for private schools, allowing more poorer families to attend
  6. Tax Deductions for childcare so parents can choose public or private without discrimination
  7. Use private hospital capacity more in health sector
  8. Move government assistance from universal to targeted in some areas
  9. Reinstate private management of prisons
  10. Allow private sector competition for accident insurance
And the list of scurrilous attacks on freedom brought into law by the Clark Government that the Nats have pledged to overturn:
  1. Repeal the Electoral Finance Act!

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Nothing more destructive for finance sector

Brian Gaynor's value as an economic commentator is limited by his apparent ignorance of some economic fundamentals.

One such was displayed this morning. The Reserve Bank, he told radio programmes this morning, should act as a lender of last resort to troubled finance houses.

This is utterly absurd.

Gaynor's thinking is shockingly short term. Not only is it not the taxpayer's job to bail out poorly managed finance houses, not only would it all-too frequently throw good money after bad, but in the final analysis nothing would be more certain of increasing the number of risky lenders in the long term than the guarantee given on a plate to them that the backstop to their riskier activities is the power of the government to make the taxpayer their involuntary guarantor.

Having the Reserve Bank as a lender of last resort would reward the riskier lenders, and invite all lenders to take equal risks to keep their place in the market.

The proposal is absurd.

The best solution to the existence of the riskier lenders is to get them out of the market forthwith, so they're unable to consume any more of their investors' wealth. This is the "creative destruction" about which intelligent economists have spent so much time trying to educate their less informed colleagues.

I recommend some study of the topic to Mr Gaynor and his colleagues.

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Formaldehyde scam exposed

I notice mainstream news were reporting yesterday on the news of the Target programme's disgracefully irresponsible formaldehyde scam (if only there were a TV programme that protected us from such scamsters, eh?)

Good to know that Not PC readers got this news here last week. Stick with me, folks, I'll see you right.

PS: I look forward to mainstream news catching up on news of the exposure of Auckland councils' contaminated soils scam reported here at Not PC two weeks ago ...

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No spam please, unless you're from offshore

It's impossible to express my joy at another well-thought through government law coming into force this morning to protect me from people's unwanted attentions, and to make life for the organisers of legitimate email lists more difficult.

Its exciting to think that, if only ninety-seven percent of spam didn't originate from offshore, that we'd now have a law to deal with it.

Among a retinue of useless, valueless and ineffective law written onto NZ's law books in recent years, is this perhaps the most derisory of all? I'll still have invitations in my inbox to send money NOW to Nigeria and to pay ten dollars for ten extra inches, but I'll have a problem receiving (for example) regular technical updates from the likes of manufacturers and suppliers of building materials and systems that I need to run my business efficiently.

The NZ Government: making life easier for NZ business.

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Smith House - Robert Green

The Smith House, by Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice Robert Green (1935-2003).

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Non-toxic toys

Brendan O'Neill has something for parents, toy importers and headline writers: "the good news is that Chinese toys are not killing our children."

So why all the scary stories, then? Says O'Neill, don't underestimate "the role of Western irrationalism in driving the toxic toys scare." See: Toxic Toys: Is China Poisoning YOUR Child? - Brendan O'Neill, Spiked.

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Free Ali Panah

In my oft-declared view, the presumption with immigration should always be on the side of would-be immigrant. Unless your would-be immigrant is either a criminal, a terrorist or has proven infectious medical condition, and is prepared to sign a waiver to any claim on the welfare state (as long as such a thing still exists), then the right thing to do is to let people cross borders freely.

It's now good enough for money to cross borders freely (after many long years when that wasn't the case); it's time that the same thing be made true for people.

The hunger-striking Ali Panah is the latest high-profile local case in which people are treated like cattle by a system in which coercion and brutality are so carelessly and bureaucratically inflicted on human beings who are simply seeking a better life. Frankly, I think Blair M. has the situation nailed:
Click here to read more ... >>

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Bad news from Marseille; better news from Melbourne

The worst news so far this morning is that Keith Robinson's calf is still injured, and will be for at least two more weeks.

I'd hate to be forced to watch Reuben Bloody Thorne taking the field in every bloody game.

UPDATE: Better news from Melbourne for fans of the world's most libertarian sport, and of the AFL's best team.

Firstly, 2007 saw record crowds at AFL games:
[the final round] attendance figure of 289,440 took the 2007 season total to 6,475,521, eclipsing the previous record mark of 6,283,788 spectators, established in 2005. “The 2007 season clearly affirms the AFL as the No.1 spectator sport in Australia,” [AFL CEO Andrew] Demetriou said...

The final attendance figure for 2007 represented a rise of 4.38 per cent on the 2006 numbers. More than two millions fans attended matches at the MCG, with 2,123,400 fans at the ground seeing an average match attendance of 47,187.

Telstra Dome averaged crowds of 36,396 this year, with 1,674,219 patrons going through the gates for matches at the ground.

Sort of makes the numbers showing up at rugby league games looks pretty sad, doesn't it: 2,880,987 fans showing up to 2007's games at an average attendance of just 15,658 per match [ref Wikipedia]. A fair reflection of the difference in quality out on the field, I'd say.

So the second piece of goood news is that in finishing in top position with 18 wins out of 22 matches, Geelong look the goods :
the AFL finals begin on Friday night with most pundits agreeing on one thing - the premiership is Geelong's to win or lose.
With World Cup and AFL finals, it's going to be a busy sporting September ... and hopefully one to remember!

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Victims compensation long overdue

I'm right behind the call by the Sensible Sentencing Trust to compensate victims of crime, but surprised at how little compensation they're after on victims' behalf.

"Compensation" is a bit of a misnomer, suggesting that what's proposed is money from taxpayers, when what they're proposing is that just ten percent of a criminal's fines are directed to the victims of crime to help them put their lives back together again. Ten percent? I'd be calling for one-hundred percent! It's not a debt to society or the state they need to repay, it's a debt to the people they've injured.

The principle in setting fines should be that criminals should never be able to gain a value from their crimes, and should to the fullest extent possible be forced to make restitution for their crimes to their victim(s). If setting the figure at ten percent is the only way to set those particular balls rolling, then I'm all for it.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

New Free Radical -- out soon!

Sorry not to have blogged this weekend; I"m afraid there's just been too many other things going on to have time.

I've spent most of the weekend putting the finishing touches to the latest Free Radical magazine, which should be at the printers very soon, and had two delightful evenings with friends -- martinis on Friday night, and a session last night watching Pavarotti in La Boheme and Domingo in Tosca.

So (with that preamble out of the way), here's the new Free Radical cover. All going well, subscribers should see it appearing in their letterboxes by the end of the week. Salut!

PS: If you subscribe now, you can be assured of your letterbox being in the first round of mailouts this week.

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